photograph by nacrowe
ani have long felt that PAUL REUBENS has not gotten the due he deserves in popular culture. like many other kids (and adults) of the 1980s and 90s, i was obsessed with PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE and its ingeniously constructed alternative world filled with talking chairs, globes and floorboards and a childish nymph of an adult who went on wild adventures at home with a kaleidoscopic roster of guests of every seeming variety, human, bovine, animated, and the list goes on.
rewatching it as an adult years later it still baffles me how great that show was on a production level alone. as is common knowledge now, REUBENS' show helped initiate/enrich the careers of various notable collaborators including LAURENCE FISHBURNE, NICK PARK, MARK MOTHERSBAUGH, PHIL HARTMAN, ROB ZOMBIE and TIM BURTON among countless others. it really is quite amazing what an eye for talent he had at the time.
as an adult i also appreciate the show's look as it incorporated a postmodern aesthetic in keeping with his CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS leanings and MEMPHIS GROUP use of contrasting colors color palettes and designs. this became a look of the 80s, but in his vision it allowed for a view of the world devoid of barriers and biases, wether they be of the religious, class, geo-historical or issues surrounding identity (sexual orientation, gender, race) variety. in this world all were welcome.
for me PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE is everything the 1980s wasnt politically. inclusive, artistic and valuing freedom. and by that i don't mean the personal freedom to discriminate or cast judgement on others (which seemingly in AMERICA is the only place where this passes as liberty), i mean the ability to live your authentic life free from discrimination and reprisal. in the 80s you had the AIDS epidemic and the failure of institutions like the REAGAN ADMINISTRATION and the CATHOLIC CHURCH to properly adress such, each using it as a hacksaw to parlay their own agendas revolving judgement and power. very JESUS-like indeed.
REUBENS gets a bad wrap because of his arrested at an adult theater, but really who cares. who did he hurt exactly? are we really that puritanical when it comes to sex (answer: yes). i think because of it his work promoting diversity and acceptance in youth culture gets criminally overlooked. not to mention all the great careers he helped initiate.
thats sad. because i defy you to watch any episode and not be heart-warmed by the inventive and invigorating nature of his classic saturday morning children's program. it still brings me joy over 30 years later.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
ED WOOD (TOUCHSTONE PICTURES, 1994) is my favorite TIM BURTON film despite the fact that it is the least TIM BURTON-like project he ever made (with possible exceptions being BIG FISH or BIG EYES).
this film is a love letter to B-movies of early cinema and the people who made them. for a man known for his elaborate GERMAN EXPRESSIONISTIC set design and macabre EDWARD GOREY-indebted aesthetic, the fact that BURTON during his early peak chose to take on a project that glorified the questionable talents and even more suspect creative vision of such a figure as b-movie director ED D. WOOD JR, who made his filmography under limited budgets (to put it very diplomatically) and with no conceivable audience, was a truly a bold departure and a touching tribute to the essence of film-making.
it is hard not to fall under the spell of WOOD, masterfully depicted by JOHNNY DEPP, and his singular focus to make his magnum opus PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959), which to this day is continually on worst movies of all-time lists (which come to think of it is a feat in and of itself). when i re-watched this recently what struck me was how much this film deals with the production of film-making, the almost fanatic zeal to which WOOD goes about corralling his merry band of enablers strikes me as a commentary on the communal aspects and the trust, risks and responsibilities involved in taking on such an endeavor.
this film also touchingly tackles the trust and communication of a director and his actor, here with MARTIN LANDEAU as washed-up, drugged-out, humiliated later years horror icon BELA LUGOSI. his portrayal is done with much humility and grace and is deeply affecting as it showcases the collateral damage of a defeated human being discarded after his usefulness to a studio he helped build rejects him. that is until he is rediscovered by WOOD who gives him a second lease on communal appreciation before his death.
i think for BURTON this film is meta-observation on the pressures, challenges and potential pitfalls of movie-making, but also its community. for me at least such makes this his most impactful film in a career of high-water marks.
this film is definitely worth your time. for the horror/exploitation/b-movie buff or layman irrespective, this is a truly great achievement.